This year we have considered 'His Story' - which is actually the story of Jesus. We have discovered that our story is located in His story - in Him our story comes to life.
We have talked about beginnings, and covenants (with Noah and Abraham). But thus far we have not really talked about a hugely important Old Testament slice of the story - the calling of God's people out of slavery and their exodus journey. In a nutshell from Abraham's great grandchildren they ended up in Egypt, became numerous, but also enslaved (a 400 year process). God leads them (via Moses) out of Egypt and out of slavery to be His people. They trek across the desert, learning to live in the presence of God. The people grumble and disobey, and shrink back from the pioneering God calls them to. The desert trek gets extended to a 40 year slog!
With all the ups and downs, Jeremiah 31:32 gives us a glimpse of God's heart: "When I took you by the hand to lead you out of Egypt". An intimate parent-with-young-child image of God leading His people.
There are parallels to draw between Israel and us as the Christian church. The Israelites were chosen by God, and we realise that is true for us too. God had mission purposes for them ultimately for the whole world, and has global mission purposes for us too. The Israelites were saved from slavery & oppression - we are saved from our wrongs and their hold on us too. None of this was their initiative - it was all of God. Same for us! The Israelites were led to the promised land. Now for us, we are led to fullness in Christ which includes receiving the Holy Spirit. Finally, within the land they had to live with potentially aggressive neighbours, with the plan to win them over by peaceful means. As Christians we may live in hostile places, but full of the Holy Spirit can hope to win others over peacefully.
The Israelites had a shared story. Each of us, as respondents to Jesus, have our own story of what Jesus means to us that unites us together in Him. Yet where the Israelites didn't live like us is that they lived in extended family units compared to our nuclear family approach. The New Testament Greek word for household is 'OIKOS', and we are learning to do our lives together that restore some aspects of OIKOS, e.g. all age small group meetings. These have the potential for small missional communities to form, which is important to us.
Ephesians 2 verses 8 to 10 summarise many of the parallels given above. We are saved by God's grace - His outrageous initiative. We didn't contribute anything but to respond, so we cannot bring our own boasting. It is about God's work in us, yet incredibly God has work for us to do - good purposes that He has had on the charts all along.
The question for any group of Christians, including ourselves at the Countess Free Church, is 'how might we live in the outrageous grace of God?'. Finding ways to explore OIKOS, developing towards missional communities, adopting mission projects are all valid examples of organisation for people within the church to discover this grace-filled life that God wants us to purposefully live.